The Power of Morality
Studies have shown that acting morally can result in feelings of well-being.
Posted January 15, 2021
The pandemic, as well as the current state of politics, have caused many people to reflect on the concept of morality. However, regardless of the morals you were raised with or those you’ve acquired in adulthood, thinking about moral responsibilities is always important, and maybe more so during these times.
Our morals are largely influenced by our character and worldview, as well as our unique life experiences. Some individuals are born with an innate sense of morality and fairness and a desire to help others. These people seem to be more sensitive to the distress of others.
Moral behavior has to do with acting and behaving according to certain standards. Some would refer to this as having a sense of right and wrong. While there are social norms for moral behavior, there are variations as far as what each person might or might not consider to be moral. The idea of morality is what allows us to interact as a society. When we perform in a moral way, we’re stepping out of our own self-interest and thinking about what’s beneficial for the good of others, or humanity at large.
While some millennials have been accused of being self-centered and being a part of the “me” generation, as a whole, these days much of the entire country is actually increasingly more about the “I” than the “we.”
There are those like the late philosopher, theologian, and author, Jonathan Sacks, who, in his book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, said that the idea of being moral has to do with believing in anti-self-help. In other words, being moral is the ability to focus on the strengthening of relationships with others and the universe as a whole. He said that it’s about “responding to their needs, listening to them, not insisting that they listen to us, and about being open to others...” (p. 46).
When we listen to and help others, we’re offering a hand, and in doing so, we can be transformed by that experience. Sacks believed that the strongest of nations attend to the needs of the weak and needy. He said, “If we care for the future of democracy, then we must recover this sense of shared morality which binds us as a collective. There is no liberty without morality, no freedom without responsibility, no viable ‘I’ without the sustaining ‘We’” (p. 20).
In her study on mindfulness and morality, educator Charlene Tan (2020) had some interesting thoughts about the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Although Confucius did not specifically write about these concepts, his work revealed that they were pivotal to both his philosophy and his life. He used the term jing, which is about focusing full attention on one’s duties, whether this has to do with our lives or someone else’s. Jing involves maintaining a respectful, humanity-centered way of being. It also means treating others how you’d like to be treated—with deference, reverence, and empathy. In today’s terms, this is considered mindful behavior. If Confucius were with us today, he would likely remind us of the importance of respectful attention as a way to motivate others beyond their stance of self-interest.
Tan also discusses the role of mindfulness during the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused huge personal and economic damage, as well as causing disruptions in health care and other social systems. Much of our heightened states of anxiety relate to mounting states of uncertainty. While everybody needs to protect themselves from the virus, it’s important to be mindful of the collective consciousness by wearing masks, social distancing, and handwashing as a significant part of moral behavior. Tan also points out that “the global crisis has brought out the worst in human beings such as selfishness that stems from panic,” (p. 6) and overstocking items that others will need. This is inconsiderate, and not mindful of the collective, which could be considered immoral.
Another study by Waytz and Hofman (2019) found that having moral thoughts, and acting morally, enhances our positive feelings about ourselves and is beneficial for our overall sense of well-being. While it’s vital to engage in self-care, it’s just as important to be mindful of actions that benefit others.
Some Moral Behaviors to Keep in Mind
- Know thyself, and acknowledge your positive and negative behaviors.
- Do no harm.
- Prevent harm.
- Have good intentions.
- Help those in need.
- Offer praise.
- Be supportive emotionally and/or financially.
Howe, N. (2019). “Millennials and the loneliness epidemic.” Forbes. May 3, 2019, “What young people fear the most,” Viceland UK Census.
Sacks, J. (2020). Morality: Restoring the common good in divided times. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Tan, C. (2020) “Mindfulness and morality: educational insights from Confucius.” Journal of Moral Education.
Waytz, A., and W. Hofmann. (2019). “Nudging the better angels of our nature: a field experiment on morality and well-being.” Emotion. 20(5). pp. 904-909.